When I decided I really liked Georgia this year and realized I was thinking about them as a top-5 caliber team, I knew I was taking a risk because of the quarterback position. It was a leap of faith to assume that either Brice Ramsey or Greyson Lambert would play at a high enough level.
I didn't really have concerns with the defense, though. I thought the run defense would improve, and it has. And with what I figured would be an epic pass rush, I figured the raw athleticism in the secondary could overcome a lack of huge experience. It hasn't, at least not consistently. The pass rush has been strangely passive -- the Dawgs aren't sending their outside linebackers at the QB as much, either because they aren't getting there or they want to help protect a struggling secondary. Regardless of which happened first, both the pass rush (77th in Adj. Sack Rate) and overall pass defense (83rd in Passing S&P+) are not what they were supposed to be.
Sterling Bailey (6'3, 282, Sr.) -- 15.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL
Josh Dawson (6'4, 273, Sr.)
Chris Mayes (6'4, 323, Sr.) -- 14.5 tackles
John Atkins (6'4, 300, So.) -- 5.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU
Trenton Thompson (6'4, 307, Fr.) -- 12.5 tackles, 2.5 TFL (0.5 sacks)
James DeLoach (6'3, 284, Sr.) -- 5.5 tackles, 1 PBU
Trenton Thompson was one of the few recruits in the class of 2015 as or more highly touted as Terry Beckner Jr., and he's quickly earned a spot in the starting lineup. Like Beckner, his primary job is to occupy blockers and push people around, but he's still proven decent in the play-making department, logging 2.5 tackles for loss and a half-sack so far.
It's probably not good that he's already Georgia's best play-maker up front, though. A 3-4 line isn't necessarily asked to make a ton of stops on its own, but you probably need to be making more than Georgia's linemen are. Sterling Bailey, the leading tackler, is eighth on the team with 15.5 tackles, three defensive backs and four linebackers. Mayes and Thompson are 10th and 11th.
Of course, stopping ball-carriers near the line hasn't really been a big issue for Georgia, so maybe this line is performing exactly as intended. The problems have started to appear when a guy gets PAST the line. He keeps running for a while. Lots of second-level yards on the table. This would be a very good game for a 100% healthy Russell Hansbrough to make an appearance. He isn't an incredibly efficient back, but he's the type who could eat up a lot of those second-level yards.
Leonard Floyd (6'4, 231, Jr.) -- 25.0 tackles, 4 TFL (2 sacks), 2 PBU, 1 FR
Lorenzo Carter (6'6, 242, So.) -- 7.5 tackles
Jake Ganus (6'2, 233, Sr.) -- 29.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 2 INT
Natrez Patrick (6'3, 248, Fr.) -- 6.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL
Roquan Smith (6'1, 217, Fr.) -- 6.0 tackles
Tim Kimbrough (6'0, 226, Jr.) -- 31.0 tackles, 5 TFL (1 sack), 1 FF
Jordan Jenkins (6'3, 253, Sr.) -- 20.5 tackles, 7.5 TFL (3 sacks), 1 FF -- DOUBTFUL
Davin Bellamy (6'5, 241, So.) -- 11.0 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 1 FF
Last year, Jordan Jenkins, Leonard Floyd, and Lorenzo Carter combined for 25 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks. At UAB, Jake Ganus logged 16.5 and 6, respectively. Projected over 13 games, these four are on pace for 26 tackles for loss and 11 sacks -- not great, but not an improvement. And the guy responsible for most of that production (Jenkins) is likely not playing against Missouri because of a groin injury.
Ganus is a great story -- local boy gets no major offers, ends up at UAB, comes home after doing great and watching his school drop football. But the fact that he's played such a heavy early role is simultaneously heart-warming and alarming. Georgia boasts nine former four-star recruits at linebacker, and a three-star mid-major transfer is second on the team in tackles while logging only 0.5 TFLs. It wasn't quite supposed to work out like that.
But again, it does appear that the linebacking corps' hands have been tied by the secondary. Coordinator Jeremy Pruitt appears to be protecting the DBs a bit.
Aaron Davis (6'1, 190, So.) -- 14.5 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 INT
Juwuan Briscoe (5'11, 193, Fr.) -- 2.5 tackles
Malkom Parrish (5'10, 188, So.) -- 19.0 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 PBU
Rico McGraw (6'0, 192, Fr.) -- 11.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 PBU
Quincy Mauger (6'0, 200, Jr.) -- 26.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL (0.5 sacks), 5 PBU
Jonathan Abram (6'1, 200, Fr.) -- 11.0 tackles, 0.5 TFL
Dominick Sanders (6'0, 189, So.) -- 23.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL (1 sack), 2 INT, 5 PBU
Jarvis Wilson (6'2, 190, Fr.)
Depending on how rose-colored your glasses are, Georgia's struggles in the secondary are either a good thing (Missouri's weakness, the passing game, might have a chance to get going) or a bad thing (Missouri won't be able to take advantage of Georgia's biggest weakness).
Georgia has allowed 17 passes of 20-plus yards this year (69th in the country) and, as you see from the Georgia statistical profile, has suffered drastic breakdowns on passing downs. The Dawgs ranks a decent 35th in Standard Downs S&P+ (not as good as I may have expected, but certainly not awful) but come in a cool 97th in Passing Downs S&P+. That's inexcusable.
The safeties have made some plays; Quincy Mauger and Dominick Sanders have combined for two picks, 10 break-ups, and four tackles for loss. But as it has been quite a few times in recent years, the cornerback position is young and faulty. Sophomores Aaron Davis (former walk-on) and Malkom Parrish (former four-star) have made some nice plays near the line and may be able to fight off blocks and stuff Missouri's short passing game. But their glitches have been all sorts of costly. Can Mizzou actually force some glitches? Might be a good day for Nate Brown to announce that his development has taken a step or two forward.
Marshall Morgan (6'3, 194, Sr.) -- 29-29 PAT, 5-6 FG under 40, 1-3 FG over 40; 32 kickoffs, 11 touchbacks
Collin Barber (6'2, 208, Sr.) -- 29 punts, 41.4 average (4 fair caught, 5 inside 20); 9 kickoffs, 5 touchbacks
Reggie Davis (6'0, 170, Jr.) -- 10 KR, 19.7 average (long: 33)
Sony Michel (5'11, 212, So.) -- 2 KR, 17.0 average (long: 17)
Reggie Davis (6'0, 170, Jr.) -- 4 PR, 26.5 average (long: 70), 1 TD
Sony Michel (5'11, 212, So.)
Marshall Morgan, who has been at UGA F-O-R-E-V-E-R, is still doing a pretty steady job of making makable field goals. His touchback rate is down a bit from last year, but until Missouri proves it can actually return kicks back to the 25, that's not a concern for the Dawgs. Meanwhile, Reggie Davis broke off a 70-yard punt return score last week against Tennessee; he's dangerous if Corey Fatony (about whom Georgia fans will be saying has been around F-O-R-E-V-E-R in a few years) actually gives him something returnable.
(Georgia hasn't been very impressive in kick returns, but there's no need to mention that outside of parentheses since Missouri doesn't kick off much and Fatony boots every other one for a touchback anyway.)